GOP won’t push for big changes to Colorado gas rules
December 31, 2010
DENVER – Colorado Republicans who vowed to reverse oil and gas regulations that they claimed were strangling the industry and driving jobs out of state are now backing off – as is the industry.
Two Republicans who campaigned for wholesale changes sent a letter to the oil and gas association Dec. 10 acknowledging the political reality: an incoming Democratic governor and a Senate controlled by Democrats who can block any legislation.
“Since the governor-elect has said he supports the rules, a full-frontal assault on the rules would be a futile endeavor,” Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said in the letter obtained by The Associated Press.
The lawmakers urged oil and gas representatives to hold Gov.-elect John Hickenlooper to his campaign promises to change regulations the industry found onerous.
“Are Republicans reneging on a clear campaign promise? Yes they are, but they are doing it because they are being realistic. The best they can get is a fair implementation of the rules,” said political consultant Floyd Ciruli.
Hickenlooper said some rules pushed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and his administration and approved by the Legislature may not be necessary.
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Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown said the new governor wants to promote the industry and also protect the environment.
“Both goals are achievable if we keep an open mind to new information and ideas, whether they come from industry, the conservation community or state legislators,” he said.
In the letter, Brophy and Sonnenberg said if Hickenlooper “can make the flawed rules work … then we should allow him that opportunity. If he will not make that commitment, or if he fails to keep the commitment, we can reassess and pursue a wholesale rewrite if appropriate.”
Doug Flanders, policy director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, said oil and gas companies are working on a few changes to the rules, but they now want stability. “We are not looking for any wholesale changes and we are not asking for any legislation this year.”
“What a lot of producers and the whole business community wants is business certainty. We can mostly live with what we’ve got,” he said.
Changes that the Republicans and some industry leaders recommend include timely permitting, a moratorium on new regulations and new taxes, and replacing some of the people on the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which they claim was unfairly stacked by Democrats with environmentalists.
The commission’s makeup was changed by state law to give landowners, local government officials and environmentalists a voice on the commission. Critics said the former makeup was too heavily weighted in favor of industry.
The GOP and the industry also want Hickenlooper to appoint new people to the Colorado Division of Wildlife, which has taken a bigger role in setting rules for drilling.
Pam Kiely, spokeswoman for Environment Colorado, said the proposed changes are “a far cry from repealing the rules” that voters heard during the campaign. She said claims that the rules were “job killers” were not borne out.
The tougher oil and gas rules that took effect last year were intended to give more weight to the environment, wildlife and public health and safety, but the industry said some of the rules went too far and cost jobs. The laws were passed during record-breaking natural gas drilling in Colorado and were blamed by some in the industry for a drop in drilling last year, while others blamed it on the economy.
The Colorado Oil and Gas Association is also continuing to press a lawsuit challenging the new rules, calling them “the most costly and burdensome rules governing oil and gas exploration, production and development of any state in the nation.”
GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty said Republicans are just dealing with political reality after the election.
“There was broad agreement in our caucus that the Ritter rules are bad for the oil and gas industry in Colorado. It killed jobs and the industry moved elsewhere. My preference would be to reverse them and start over. The reality is we need to do what we can to make the rules more employer-friendly and bring jobs back to Colorado,” he said.
Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said Colorado now has more oil wells and oil rigs in operation than it had before the rules were passed. He said the loss of jobs in the industry was because of the economic recession, not the rules.
Dreyer said the number of permits is up over last year, and the average time to process them has dropped from 74 days to 42 days.
“The Republicans campaigned on how they were going to reverse these rules. The election happened, and now they have to get down to business,” Dreyer said.